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A quick musing on epoxy use – or overuse – in wooden boat building

The most recent issue of WoodenBoat includes part I of a three-part “how to build” piece on the Phoenix III, a cute sprit-rigged day-sailer from the desk and shop of Aussie Ross Lillistone’s Bayside Wooden Boats. As is generally the case with these pieces in WoodenBoat, the boat is pretty and fun-looking, the article clear and interesting, and the detail on target for the need. Mr. Lillistone clearly has a nice eye as a designer and we are sure he is a great boatbuilder. We don’t want to impugn the big-picture here at all; again, we really like the looks of the boat.

One bit in the article really bugged us, though, and we are interested in others’ opinions. In writing about setting up the transom, Mr. Lillistone writes:

The transom edge, like the bulkheads, is simply cut square, relieving the builder of the tricky process of cutting compound bevels on its edges. The planking will contact only the outer corner of the transom. This is no cause for worry, since the gap will be filled with thickened epoxy when the hull is being planked. After the planking is completed and the hull turned upright, this joint will be further reinforced with a large radius epoxy fillet and double-bias ‘glass tape, making it exceptionally strong.

We would fully expect the method described to do the job, but does it strike anyone else as crossing a line from being accessible to being sloppy and leaning on a crutch? We here at Chine bLog are all about getting as many fine boats like the Phoenix III built as possible and that clearly means knocking down barriers to entry. Epoxy and ‘glass methods like stitch-and-glue, lapstrake-plywood, and the like are valuable ways to do this. We find ourselves getting ruffled, though, when we are leaning on epoxy so much that joinery is getting tossed out wholesale. Yes, the bevels present some extra work, but it’s hardly the trickiest task one faces. We would be curious to hear what you, our readers, think of this. Is there a line of artistry the we should try to hold or have we gotten curmudgeonly here?

Learning to plank – a great time as a CBMM Apprentice for a Day

It happens all too rarely, but I was able to cash in a Christmas gift and spend another great day with Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum‘s Apprentice for a Day program. The current boat is an enhanced reproduction (a reproduction with some more modern updates incorporated) of GHOST, a deadrise bateau from about 1920. GHOST, a deadrise bateau GHOST's transomShe is a longtime fixture in the museum’s collection but has not, as I understand it, seen the water in that time. Little is known, therefore, about her performance. She is just shy of 16′ LOA with a beam shy of 6′. In her day she carried a sprit rig with 146 square feet of sail.

I found her reincarnation with two rough side planks clamped on to molds and an oak stem. Her chine logs and transom were in place – check out that upsweep in the chines and the laminated keel – as were the initial stab at that most curious of Chesapeake boatbuilding creations, the chunk bow.transom and aft end of chine log Chunk bow Rather than planking the forward portion of the bottom, where planks could get twisted and tricky, the builders took a page from the dugout-builders of yore and carved pieces from solid stock. Arduous, but it did the trick.

Our first task was to fit the bottom-most port side plank (the bottom will be diagonally planked).
Continue reading Learning to plank – a great time as a CBMM Apprentice for a Day »

Iteration on the leeboard bracket for AL DEMANY CHIMAN

The leeboard bracket is giving us a tough lesson in the physics of lateral resistance. My first attempts showed flaws in the bracket to clip the board to the single side gunnel. The second attempt, from late summer, is below. I followed the published models and build a bracket that clips to both gunnels.

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This system worked well enough at keeping the bracket in place, but I still had the end that meets the leeboard all wrong. I realized two things. First, the bolt was too thin – at 1/4″ it was being bent by the leeboard’s upward, outboard pressure on port tack and upward, inboard pressure on starboard tack. Second, the “face plate” provided too little bearing surface for the board (and the bolt on the outside was too small as well). There wasn’t enough to keep the board clamped in place.

In the Fall, then, I enlarged the “face plate” and made a much bigger knob to clamp in the leeboard itself. The worked much better, but the “face plate” still came apart. In the face of these forces, then, I have now buckled a bit and, how shall we say it… screwed the snot out of it. I am still resisting loads of fiberglass cloth and big metal L joints, but there is more epoxy and bronze than before. I am hoping this will be enough. I find the bracket rather graceful as it is now (scrap white oak FTW!), and don’t want to have to revert to something clunky and ungainly. Physics may overpower, though.

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Humanity’s Vessel: a new project that is as exciting as it is envy-inducing

Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s. (Exodus 20:17)

So that final phrase is fairly open-ended, but is thy neighbor’s Watson Fellowship covered? Because if it is, we’re screwed. We say this after receiving an email this week from a visitor named Will Meadows. Mr. Meadows has recently graduated from university here in the U.S. and succeeded in winning the prestigious fellowship, which grants $25,000 for “a year of independent, purposeful exploration and travel — in international settings new to them — to enhance their capacity for resourcefulness, imagination, openness, and leadership and to foster their humane and effective participation in the world community.” And what will Mr. Meadows do with this gift? Here is where the envy part comes in. Dugout canoes at Tiwai Island, Sierra Leone He writes: “Traveling for a year non-stop as a Watson Fellow I will build and study traditional canoes on every continent (besides Antarctica).” No one told us we could do that when we were 21! We want a do-over!

In all seriousness, this is an amazing project and we truly commend Mr. Meadows for winning the fellowship and choosing this incredible topic. To be clear, we’d support almost any permutation of this project, but the particular itinerary / boat selection is a great mix. Meadows is covering many major styles and building materials, so the results will allow a great study of strengths and weaknesses as well as unique factors in the evolution of different boat types. In his words:

The global journey begins on lake Titicaca on the border of Peru and Bolivia where at 12500 feet beautiful reed canoes are made throughout the lake. The native peoples of Titicaca live on floating islands of the same reed harvested in the lake ecosystem a. From there, I build in Zanzibar with the dugout builders of the island, traveling into mainland Tanzania and Uganda as well. After a brief stay in the United Arab Emirates with a palm frond boat builder, I work with Maori war canoe builders on the North Island of New Zealand. Canada calls next in the spring with the intricate birch bark canoes of the north woods. The year ends with a summer building traditional Kayaks in Norway and a stay on the Mekong in northern Laos.

We are, of course, eager to stay in touch with the project. You can too – Mr. Meadows is writing about his travels and sharing his knowledge at the Humanity’s Vessel blog. It’s on our RSS reader and should be on yours too. Please join me in wishing Godspeed to Mr. Meadows!

Follow-up: the completed North Shore Sailing Skiff

I learned recently, via the Cheaspeake Maritime Museum Facebook stream, the the Apprentice for a Day program completed the North Shore Sailing Skiff I worked on for a day this spring. As expected, she came out quite well. She’s a nice design overall, and I hope I can take a few pulls in her at some point.

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Excellent article on lug rigs by CLC’s John C. Harris

John Harris of Chesapeake Light Craft recently published a nice piece, “Lug Nuts,” on the virtues and characteristics of the lug rig. I’d recommend it for anyone picking a sail for a small boat (or selecting a boat to acquire.

Completion of ama reworking for AL DEMANY CHIMAN

Last weekend I was also able to wrap up work on the refurbished ama for my skin-on-frame outrigger canoe AL DEMANY CHIMAN. I had noted previous progress a bit ago, and I had stalled for a while because life took over. Work crises tamped down a bit and the weather improved, I brought the ama to the front lawn of 1 Chine bLog Place for some skinnin’.

The process went smoothly and I was sorry I had put it off for so long. I was pleased I even felt comfortable enough to make some adjustments to approach midstream without fear of things going awry. Here are the results. In addition to the presumed enhancements to seaworthiness, I actually think the ama looks a good bit better too. Next step, we gotta get this boat in the water for the season…

New AL DEMANY CHIMAN ama

Aft end of new AL DEMANY CHIMAN ama Forward end of new AL DEMANY CHIMAN ama

A day of boatbuilding fun! Working on the North Shore Sailing Skiff at CBMM.

North Shore Sailing Skiff, “Miss B” Model

Excellent times Saturday as I took advantage of a Christmas gift of another day in the Apprentice for a Day program at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum. I hadn’t been there since the passing of Dan Sutherland, who ran the program for the past few years and a much-missed genius. Happily the program has rallied to continue Dan’s final project, a North Shore Sailing Skiff, “Miss B” Model, and I was thrilled to get a chance to participate in building this nice-looking classic small rowing and sailing boat.

North Shore Sailing Skiff, “Miss B” Model

I confess I didn’t get to learn much about the boat. It was designed by Robert H. Baker and a version of it appeared in the very first issue of WoodenBoat. More recently, the hull, NELLIE, appeared as Miss November in WoodenBoat’s 2010 calendar (via Benjamin Mendlowitz, of course). CBMM’s blog has a bit of additional info.

The boat had been fully planked and framed. The boat is going to be gorgeous. She will have a bright-finished Spanish cedar transom and I must call your attention to the black locust breasthook and quarter knees. My goodness, that breasthook is treasure.

North Shore Sailing Skiff breasthook North Shore Sailing Skiff quarter knee

So, on to the work I did. The morning had us refining the fit of the seats. As is often the case, this meant a good deal of subtle tweaking and nudging followed by an extensive effort to find the right spot to cut the mast partners into the forward seats (there are two mast positions and the center-line had gotten a bit murky when compared with the seats). I eventually was able to have at it with the drill press and a 3″ hole saw. A little more clean-up and the seats got pulled again and spent the afternoon in the finishing room with another participant.

North Shore Sailing Skiff aft seat North Shore Sailing Skiff with seats

The afternoon was focused on figuring out the floorboards. The plans called for a single 3″ plank running fore-and-aft about 5-6″ off the center line. This seemed an odd choice and we decided, after extensive discussion and test-fitting, to add a second floorboard inboard of the designed ones. We milled the boards – barely – out of some sassafras and a spent the last part of the afternoon shaping and sanding these pieces. Satisfying as always.

Update on the rebuilding of the ama for my canoe, AL DEMANY CHIMAN

It seemed a good time to update you all on the status of our various winter projects on the skin-on-frame outrigger canoe, A DEMANY CHIMAN. When we last checked in, I was trying to figure out how to approach the redesign of the ama, especially with respect to the problem of it shipping lots of water. I have pursued the initial approach (despite good advice to the contrary) and am some way along.

To review, I took the ama completely apart and gave everything a good sanding. I had found the bow piece in suspect shape, so I just rebuilt it. I then coated everything with the same polyurethane that coats the skin and lashed it all back together, but for the stringers. I then got some polystyrene and built blocks matching the dimensions of the four sections of the ama (including the stringers in the width) and then split those down the middle lengthwise. I filed / sanded them to shape so that they fit snugly and had the appropriate sectional shape. I am now 3/4 through the final step, which is carving out a channel for the stringers. Below is the starboard side, with one stringer just laid in.

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Now I have to do the port side. I’ll paint them all so they aren’t that horrid pink (yes, in its regular life, this foam would be insulating some house).

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A couple thoughts are in order. First, working with foam has been a highly unpleasant process. The mess is horrendous and shaping it does not have the same satisfying feeling wood gives. The stuff is obviously soft enough that it is easy to ding up and it snags much more easily than it seems it should. On the other hand, I think it will meet my objectives pretty well. By coating the pieces in polyurethane, waiting for a full set, and then lashing them, they behave like skin-on-frame construction should, but are protected form the inevitable water (yes, there may be wear and, over time, places water will get to the wood, but that will be down the line a decent bit). The stringers will show through and give the appearance they had, maintaining the same look. Finally, the water will mostly stay out, leaving me confident the ama will remain buoyant in a longer, choppy crossing. Perfect? No, but I think this will get me where I wanted to, even if the journey has been a pain.

Time for a little boatbuilding philosophy

I have given my dad a subscription to Maine Boats, Homes, & Harbors Magazine for several years. Recently he sent me a couple quotes he took from an article in the recent issue (I believe the editor’s note from the March 2012 edition). Behold:

The desire to build a boat is one of those that cannot be resisted. It begins as a little cloud on a serene horizon. It ends by covering the whole sky, so you can think of nothing else. You must build to regain your freedom… To build one’s own craft is to trade a certain kind of practicality for personal satisfaction. And to build with natural materials is also in a way to make a statement about yourself and how you want to relate to the world – to be thought of as part of the world, rather than an imposition on it.

Needless to say we here at Chine bLog can completely get behind this sentiment. In the run-up to building the Peace Canoe PEACE OF THE PUZZLE I had convinced myself that there was no way I could build a boat in the coming years. I was getting by via visits to the Alexandria Seaport Foundation and Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum and shutting any further dreams out. When the idea to build a Peace Canoe started to germinate, and, more importantly, the path to do so emerged, the concept went from that “serene cloud” phase to the “I am buying lumber TODAY!” phase in about 3 hours. OK, fine, 3 days, but you get the drift. I was absolutely hooked on making that boat come to life in my back yard from the moment I realized I could.

Likewise, my skin-on-frame outrigger canoe AL DEMANY CHIMAN emerged out of many desires, with a statement of my identity being a more important one than I, at first, realized. I wanted to have this boat because it would be completely unique and would be an unequivocal testament of my personal design aesthetic (what I have written about elsewhere as fusion of tradition) and boating philosophy (small and naturally-powered, please, and suitable for at least light voyages). The boat represents what I wanted in a boat, but also very much something I needed to say.

Nice words from a nice publication.